Returning To Sport After Pregnancy

Getting back into sport after having your baby is amazing- it’s a social outlet, and a great way to improve your fitness and maintain a healthy weight. For those playing competitive sport, there is often time pressure to hit the ground running and be back as soon as possible. You may be feeling great, so why not?

Having a baby generally involves a lengthy downtime from maximal training during pregnancy, decreasing your strength and game specific fitness. Your body undergoes huge changes to accommodate your growing baby, shifting organs and undergoing changes in your pelvic joints and rib cage. I’ve heard the myth many times that if you’re fit before and during pregnancy, then you’re fine to continue with the same exercise post birth. This is flawed for many reasons.

Childbirth involves either major surgery (Ceasarian section) or a vaginal birth, which places your pelvic floor muscles and supports under tremendous strain (~350% stretch from their resting length!). Research has shown that the recovery time from this is 4-6 months. Returning to running and high impact sports prior to this puts you at a much greater risk of pelvic floor dysfunction, including urinary and faecal incontinence and Pelvic Organ Prolapse. Abdominal separation, muscle imbalances, sleep deprivation and psychological stressors of having a newborn also predispose you to injury.

If you had surgery for a knee reconstruction, or a musculoskeletal injury like an ankle sprain or shoulder dislocation, most people would see their Physio and doctor and be guided by a rehabilitation plan with strict instruction when they can return to their sport. Childbirth is no different and should absolutely be treated with an individualised rehabilitation program before returning to Sport.

There are now evidence-based guidelines published with timeframes on returning to running and sport. If you want to be back to your sport stronger and faster, with the least risk of injury, here’s how Thrive Health approaches it:

  • See your Women’s Health Physio during your pregnancy to manage any musculoskeletal injuries, learn about your pelvic floor, and have an early plan in place post-natally.
  • Follow up via email or in person post-natally as soon as you’re comfortable (1-2 weeks), for specific advice on your recovery depending on your birth, and an appropriate mobility and strengthening program
  • After your 6 week medical review, book in with your Women’s Health Physio for an assessment of your pelvic floor. This may be done via ultrasound or internally, and gives crucial information on your pelvic floor function to guide your rehab and optimise your pelvic floor function. This is important for your continence, support of your pelvic organs, and your sexual function!
  • Begin a mobility and strength training program specific to you and your sport, and continue working with your physio on your pelvic floor strengthening and any abdominal separation.
  • At 3 months (minimum!), your physio will do a load an impact management assessment, and strength assessment. You may then be cleared for jogging.
  • Continue with your physio program for graded sport specific training, including agility, balance and landing technique. All things going well, you can expect a return to sport at 4-6 months post birth.

Having a baby is an amazing achievement, and we need to prioritise rehabilitation as with any other injury, in order to prevent future injury and pelvic health issues.

Returning to sport fitter and stronger is absolutely possible, but we need to give our bodies time and put in the work. You’ve got this mummas!

 

Written by Kate Smith, BAppSc (PHTY), Senior Physiotherapist

At Thrive Health Kate treats Pelvic floor dysfunction, including Urinary Incontinence, Prolapse, Pain and bowel dysfunction, Pre/post natal management including return to exercise, Abdominal separation, General musculoskeletal injuries and post op rehabilitation, Core stability retraining/ conditioning

Postpartum